People who use sacred texts have often found ways of selecting passages appropriate to their needs. Disciples of Confucius used a complex system of hexagrams, chosen by lot, to find images and comments suitable to their time, place and situation. In classical and medieval times, the writings of Virgil and Homer were used in a similar way. Sometimes the Bible was accessed by lot or dice or random procedures. The Church responded to the need to select appropriate wisdom from the Bible, by the daily lectionary, a selection of readings for every day in the year, which was originally used in monasteries, but has for some time been used in daily mass in the Catholic Church, and for private devotion in others. Obviously the choice of passages reflects a theology and the Christian calendar, but it also has an arbitrary element. It asks the reader, “Can this wisdom be applied to your soul, your community, your place, today?” This blog follows the daily readings and hopes to uncover some wisdom.
Reading 1, Isaiah 55:10-11
10 For, as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and do not return before having watered the earth, fertilising it and making it germinate to provide seed for the sower and food to eat,
11 so it is with the word that goes from my mouth: it will not return to me unfulfilled or before having carried out my good pleasure and having achieved what it was sent to do.
Gospel, Matthew 6:7-15
7 (Jesus said) ‘In your prayers do not babble as the gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard.
8 Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
9 So you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be held holy,
10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.
13 And do not put us to the test, but save us from the Evil One.
14 ‘Yes, if you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive you yours;
15 but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive your failings either
The verses from Isaiah are the ending of a beautiful prophetic poem, offering the people God’s food and refreshment. They embody a perennial truth about God’s communication (Word): that it a) comes down b) satisfies need c) makes fruitful d) completes God’s desire e) returns to God. This is true of the communication of God through scripture, as even this miserable blogger knows. It is also of course supremely true of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and of every one of his teachings, including his prayer.
a) The prayer comes down, that is, it is given by Jesus, but it also enacts a “coming down” from the address to the Father and the hallowing of his name, to the coming of his rule on earth
b) The prayer trusts in God’s provision for human need, “give us this day our bread for tomorrow (Greek: epiousios). As in the story of the manna we ask for enough for each day as it comes.
c) We are made fruitful by the cancellation of our debts. This may include cancellation of our brothers’ and sisters’ monetary, as well as moral debts-we are made generous by the generosity of God.
d) We trust that God will fulfil his desire by rescuing us from the Evil One. When we come into hard testing we know that “One who was tested at all points as we are” is with us.
The prayer is of limitless value in the life of believers, accompanying each member of God’s family from birth to death. It should be the first prayer taught to children, and has been, in my experience as a minister, the last prayer on the lips of the dying. Its brevity and earthiness keep faith clean: it is hard for the self-righteous, the hypocrite and the exclusive fundamentalist (within us all) to pray this prayer. It places us firmly at the intersection of human need and God’s provision, communicating God’s love “as the rain and the snow come down from the sky.”
Many Christian people say it every day.